This is set after Buffy's return during season six, though I changed the storyline a bit. She coped a lot better, so no philosophic talking to and sleeping with Spike, although he does follow her around whenever she's patrolling. Giles did not leave; Willow/Tara and Xander/Anya are still couples.

 All characters in this story are not mine, except Raven. They were created by Joss Whedon, as you all know. ^_^

Deal

Part I – Life For Life

 The Slayer was busy, although the creature she was fighting hardly seemed a worthy opponent. This particular demon had about the size of a big dog, and its looks as well, if one didn't regard the sharp claws and oversized teeth. Still, she couldn't quite take this fight all seriously. A dog demon was not even near her top ten list of worst enemies ever. The sun had barely set, it was a nice warm evening in the woods, and later, she and her friends would have a little barbecue. She just had to kill this thing first.

 As she and the creature circled one another, Spike stepped out from between some nearby trees. She paid no attention to him, the vampire who lately always seemed to be around wherever she went.

 Suddenly, the demon attacked. Damn, it is fast, she thought, Spike's "Buffy! Watch out!" ringing in her ears. She tried to avoid the beast, but still it hit her, sending her to the ground. She felt its sharp claws on her skin and smelled its foul breath. Then the weight was lifted from her as Spike threw himself at the creature in a desperate attempt to protect what he most treasured. He reached under his duster, producing a dagger from some hidden pocket. As the demon charged again, the vampire sunk the sharp blade deeply into the only place he knew the creature to be vulnerable, the soft spot in the neck. With a yelp, the dog demon collapsed, and lay still.

 With blazing eyes, Buffy regarded him as he stepped over to her, refusing to let him help her up.

 "I could handle him myself!" she snapped, getting on her feet in a swift movement, just to prove her point.

 He ignored her remark. "Are you hurt?" he asked instead, concern in his voice.

 "Nah, it's just a scratch." Somehow, she felt oddly light-headed.

 "A scratch?!" Spike's panic-filled voice seemed far away as the world began to spin. Blindly, she reached out for him. "Spike? Sp-"

 The vampire caught her slender body as she collapsed. Motionless, she hung in his arms.

 "Slayer? Buffy? Buffy!"

***

Giles closed the door with a sigh. Dawn, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya eyed the former librarian with worry, while Spike leant against a wall, eyes closed.

 "It's a coma," he began, and Dawn started to cry. Willow embraced her wordlessly. "It seems whatever she fought was poisonous. They are still working on it," he said helplessly. Xander closed his eyes, and Anya snuggled close to him, offering all comfort she could give.

 Giles turned to Spike. "Now, if you could describe that demon once again, we could look it up and search for-"

 "Useless," the vampire interrupted him, finally opening his eyes.

 The Watcher looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"

 "I mean that I know those bloody beasts. It was a Hynd. Not much of a deal, except for the sodding claws. Poisonous they are, deadly by the lightest scratch."

 They stared at him in horror. Then, uncertainty filling her voice, Dawn asked the question that moved them all.

 "What's the cure?" New tears ran down her young face.

 Spike's face softened as he looked at the girl he had protected for so long when her sister had been… away. Yet, he had to hurt her now, by simply telling the truth.

 "Sorry, Niblet. There is none."

***

 Spike burst into his crypt, finally giving in to the desperation he had felt since that early evening disaster. Buffy had just returned, and again she was dying. And again he couldn't do a thing about it, damned to watch helplessly once more as she left him.

 He slammed his fist hard against a wall. If only he had been there earlier… reacted faster… looked after her more carefully… If only he could do something… He leant against the wall, staring out of his crypt into the darkening sky. In a nearby tree, some ravens were sitting, watching him in the fading light as he watched them. Ravens…The vampire winced as a thought struck him. Maybe there was something he could do after all.

***

 Willow fumbled through her pockets, in search for the keys. She nearly burst into tears when she couldn't find them, with Dawn clinging to her arm. Maybe this was an omen. The keys to Buffy's home gone, Buffy gone… She struggled hard for self-control, as Tara gently pushed her aside.

 "Let me," she said, pulled out her key, and opened the door.

 The three girls entered the silent house. Back in the hospital, they had decided that one of them was to stay with Buffy, so that she wasn't alone, while the others tried to find a cure anyway. Dawn had wanted to be the first to stay at her sister's side, but to their surprise, it had been Spike who had disagreed. "Got to visit school tomorrow, little bit. Don't want her yelling at you when you miss some classes." He nodded at Buffy, obviously ignoring the state she was in. Dawn had obeyed the vampire, and so it was Xander who had taken the first watch, together with Anya.

 The young girl still didn't let go of Willow's arm, her face buried in the soft fabric that was her jacket. The witch looked down on her uncertainly, finally settling on stroking the girl's long hair.

 "You should go to bed now," she said softly. "It's been a long day for you."

 "I want to sleep in Buffy's room," came the muffled reply.

 Willow exchanged a glance with Tara, who nodded. "Surely. She wouldn't mind."

 Dawn nodded, and turned to the stairs, not once raising her face. As the door to her sister's room closed behind her, the witches could hear the faint sound of her crying.

 The redhead snuggled into Tara's warm embrace, trying to shut out the young girl's grief, and her own.

 "I just hope she will cope," she whispered.

***

 Xander had made himself comfortable on a chair beneath Buffy's bed. Now he was trying not to look at her pale face. Anya wasn't helping him.

 "She looks so helpless, don't you think?"

 He sighed. "Of course she looks helpless. She's in a coma," he said impatiently.

 Anya fell silent. After a while, he looked over to the corner she was standing in.

 "Sorry, I didn't want to offend you. It's just… she's so…" His voice trailed off as he finally looked at his best friend. To see her lying there so still was almost more than he could take.

 Warm arms closed around him from behind as Anya tried once again to comfort him, and this time, he accepted it willingly.

 "Giles is smart. He will find something," she said in a convinced voice.

 Xander just hoped that she was right. He wished he could have that confidence as well.

 "If she dies… I don't know what I'll do…" he finally whispered.

 "Giles is smart," she repeated, glad that he could not see the sorrow in her eyes.

***

 Darkness had fallen over Sunnydale. But the creatures that used to roam the town so far were hiding in their holes tonight, waiting, anticipating. Everything was quiet, everyone seemed to hold their breath: The Slayer was dying…

 Spike looked around. The Magic Shop was never completely dark. Crystal balls and other mythical things were radiating a mysterious glow. But he wasn't here to marvel in that strange beauty. Not too long ago, he had accompanied the Niblet on her search for a book; now again it was a book that had led him here. He scanned the shelves. Nothing, nothing, nothing… yes! He reached out for a particular book and took it. The heavy leather binding had the wrinkles of old age, he noticed, as he opened it, quickly leafing through the pages. He stopped, and a grim smile played around his lips. Sometimes, magic was all you had, trustworthy or not. Following the instructions, he collected the ingredients that were necessary for the ritual he had in mind, and disappeared into the night.

***

 The young woman screamed in sheer panic as her companion collapsed dead at her feet. It should be the last thing she ever did in life. The scream ended abruptly in a gurgle, as something went straight for her throat, delighted in the warm juice that filled its mouth. So delicate that it just craved for more. It let the empty shell that had once been a human slide carelessly to the ground. It already thirsted for the next unsuspecting victim. With an evil snicker, it turned, and vanished into a nearby tree.

***

 Once more, Spike stared desperately at black nothing. He had gathered the ingredients, he had performed the ritual, but to no avail. Nothing had happened. There goes your bloody magic, he thought bitterly. Always trust it to do exactly what you don't want.

 Slowly, he returned to his crypt. There was nothing more he could do, no more ace he could play. He lay on his sarcophagus, and staring at the ceiling in utter defeat, he began to cry helplessly, giving in to the pain that filled his unbeating heart. So she would leave him once again… so he would have to cope once again. He wondered if he should start counting the days already. Buffy…

 A soft voice tore him out of his agony.

 "A crying vampire… how disgusting."

 "Bloody hell!"

He shot up, startled. A woman was standing in the doorway, observing his every move with cold eyes. Everything about her was black: the tight clothing as well as the smooth hair that ended at shoulder's length. Or those strange dark almond-eyes that seemed far too large for her thin, pale face.

 "Who are you," he asked sharply, trying to regain his composure.

 The woman shrugged. "You should know who I am. It was you who summoned me."

 The vampire took in a deep, unneeded breath. "Yes… Raven."

 Her lips curved into a smile that lacked any warmth. "So. What is it you want?"

 He looked her straight into the eyes. "I want you to save Buffy Anne Summers." Was there a flicker of interest?

 "Are you sure? You know who she is?"

 "She's the Slayer. What with it? You gonna do it or not?"

 She shrugged again. "I can do whatever you wish for. But there's a price to pay."

 "And that would be?"

 "You give what you want to get."

 Spike looked at her uneasily, to see if she was serious. "Uh, it could be a bit difficult to give my life, you know. I mean, I am a vampire. Which means I'm dead."

 She nodded. But he was certain now that it was interest that shone in her dark eyes. "Then I suggest another deal: I will drink your blood."

 Spike backed away from her instinctively, staring at her in disbelief. "What?!"

 Raven seemed amused at his reaction. "The blood of a vampire to cleanse that of the Slayer. Should work out perfectly. Normally, I'm not allowed to make suggestions, but if you keep quiet about this, so will I." She looked at him, as if she was measuring his courage and determination. "The Slayer will be weak, for this deal is not a powerful one. But she will live."

 The vampire didn't have to think twice. If it saved Buffy, why bother about the consequences for him?

 "Do it," he said hoarsely.

 He hadn't expected her to move so swiftly. As her sharp teeth dug into his neck, it was all he could do not to cry out in pain.

~~~ COMMERCIAL BREAK ^_^ ~~~

 Xander and Anya were on their way home. Giles had taken their place at Buffy's side. Asked about a possible cure, he had just shaken his head.

 "If she didn't have the strength of the Slayer, she would be dead by now," he had answered.

 After that, Xander had fled the hospital.

 He was lost in his thoughts, as he felt Anya's body stiffen beside him.

 "Xander!" she cried out, warning him. As he looked up, the creature was already leaping at him. But you couldn't survive years of slaying in Sunnydale without developing some reflexes. He jumped towards Anya, moving himself and the girl out of the monster's way. He had barely gotten back to his feet when the demon charged again. His emergency stake shot into his palm. Not exactly the weapon he was wishing for right now, but hey, eventually everything with a sharp point would do. He flung the stake at the creature, missing it only by inches as it leapt at him. A desperate kick sent it stumbling back, more surprised at the actual resistance than hurt. Now, for the first time, Xander got to look at his opponent.

 "Boy, you're ugly," he panted. The thin figure's wrinkled skin was of a greenish brown colour, as far as he could tell by the light of the street lamps. Its shape seemed human more or less, two arms and legs, two eyes, one nose and moth. Yet, there were these things all about it, looking very much like twigs, some even with little leaves on them.

 "Xander!" Anya cried again, her voice filled with fear. The creature turned to her, and charged. In a desperate attempt to save the girl he loved, Xander jumped, hitting the demon in midair. They both tumbled over the ground, and a furious kick sent the young man flying through the air, gasping when he hit the ground once more. He staggered back to his feet, and as his opponent attacked this time, he used its momentum to send it crashing into a tree. Where it vanished.

 With a blank look, Xander stared at the tree, as Anya rushed over to him, running her hands all over his body to make sure he wasn't injured.

 "Xander, you are so strong!" she finally exclaimed when she found no parts missing. "Sleep with me now!"

 Xander turned to her. "Later," he muttered, scratching his head. "First, we have to get Giles to find a way to kill this thing."

 "No chance," Anya said firmly. "That was a Dra'ad demon. Only to be killed by the hands of the Slayer."

 The young man stared at her. "But Buffy's…" his voice trailed off, as realisation dawned on him. "Oh, shit," he whispered.

 His fiancé nodded.

 "Right."

***

 Spike sank to the ground. All feeling had left his body, all strength having been drained right out of him. This had not the slightest resemblance to the sensual experience he knew the bite of a vampire to be. His whole being was pain. He looked up, breathing heavily.

 Raven was standing in the middle of the crypt, and for a moment he thought his fading view showed him the vague outlining of wings on her back. The last thing he saw was her raising her arms.

 "So be it." The voice rang through the room, filled with power.

 The vampire surrendered himself to the arms of unconsciousness that waited for him, wrapping him up softly.

***

 Giles sat next to Buffy's bed, a book in his hands. He had tried all night to find a cure to her current state of weakness, but it seemed that Spike had been right. Everything he had found about those Hynds had told him exactly the same as the vampire had: Venomous claws, deadly by the lightest scratch. Still, he didn't want to give up. It was his duty as her Watcher – and her friend – to keep on trying until there was no hope left. Until she-

 A soft moan made him look up.

 Suddenly, the Slayer's body jerked up, and she cried in pain. Then she slumped back, breathing heavily. Sweat was glistening on her forehead.

 Giles still wondered if he should call the nurse, as Buffy's eyes flew open, and she sat up. Looking at her startled Watcher, she asked, "Where am I?"

 "This, uh, is the hospital," he answered, taking off his glasses and blinking away tears of gratitude to whatever it was that had saved her. "Are you…" His voice trembled. He started again. "Do you feel alright?"

 She seemed to think his question over. Then she nodded. "I feel a bit weak. But yeah, I'm all right."

 Noticing that Giles had to fight for his self-control, she added, "Let's go! Hey, I'm hungry!"

***

 The gang spent the following evening at Buffy's. They all were happy to see her up and about again, and soon they were making plans to destroy that Dra'ad demon Anya and Xander had encountered. Buffy just listened to one of Xander's wilder ideas, when Spike turned up. He looked even paler than usual, and dark rings were under his eyes.

 "Spike. What wind did whirl you in here?" the Slayer asked, happy for a diversion.

 "Just wanted to see how you are, Slayer." He grimaced, as he slumped into a chair. "How are you?"

 "I should return that question: How are you? As Xander would put it: you look like undead man walking," she retorted. "Anybody walked over your grave?"

 Dawn looked up at her sister's remark, her face worried. "Spike? Are you alright?"

 He snorted. "Been a long day. Didn't sleep too well. Some bloody idiots on a sightseeing tour chose my cemetery for an excursion into the Middle Ages, stomping all around my crypt."

 Willow giggled. "And, did you scare them away?"

 He looked at her disgustedly. "Those were Japanese, pet. They'd have flash lighted me to death." And with that, the topic was settled.

 As the chatter rose once more, Buffy had to slow her friends down.

 "You know, I hate to admit it, but as long as I am this weak, I'm not going to defeat anyone. Especially no super-demon who can vanish into trees whenever he's feeling hurt. I have to regain my power first."

 So Raven was right, Spike thought. She is weakened.

 Giles sighed. "This could take time we do not have. So far, it has already killed seven people we know of. And its strength seems to increase."

 They all looked uneasily at him for a moment, then Xander brightened up.

 "Hey, we could do that spell again. Remember? When we fought Adam? That all-become-one spell?"

 "Well, your idea isn't even that bad," Giles began, ignoring Xander's swelling chest. "Unfortunately, this wouldn't work here." He saw the disappointed looks, and explained. "Buffy was having her full power, then. Using that spell in her current state of, uh, reduced capacity, we could as well kill her." Suddenly, he interrupted himself. "Spike, are those bite marks on your neck?"

 The vampire winced in surprise. "Wha-? Bite-? Bloody hell, no!"

 But now Buffy leant in, eying his neck suspiciously, making him shift uncomfortably. "Spike, I know bite marks when I see them, and those are bite marks." Her hazel eyes met him in a hard gaze. "Care to explain?"

 The bleach-blonde man cursed himself inwardly for being so stupid to let them notice. He forced himself to grin mockingly. "I'm a vampire, luv. Where would I get bite marks?"

 The Slayer didn't fall for that. "That's what I'm asking you. Where, Spike?"

 Spike gave in. "It was the price," he mumbled, looking intently at his feet.

 The gang was silent now, their eyes flying from him to Buffy, and back to him.

 "The price for what?"

 He looked up, his eyes finally meeting hers. "The price for your recovery," he said in a provoking manner.

 Shocked silence fell over the room as they stared at him in horror. Buffy couldn't believe her ears.

 "Tell me," she finally demanded quietly. And he obeyed.

***

 Outside the house, the leaves on Spike's favourite tree were rustling in a light breeze. A figure stepped out of it, grinning. It had finally reached its destination.

 "By the hands of the Slayer… I guess I'll have to rip those hands off, then." The raspy voice was barely audible in the night air. The demon could sense humans inside that house, the Slayer, and one other. Blood waiting to be shed.

 Looking at the windows, it chose the one illuminated. And charged.

 Breaking glass accompanied its appearance. Immediately, it chose to go for the weakest victim. And that would be… over there!

 "Dawn!" Buffy yelled as the creature leapt at her younger sister. Trying to push off the shock that had overcome her, she rose to her feet, and threw herself into the fight. But the demon just snarled, and hurled her away. It was Willow who stopped it by magic, if only for the moment.

 Spike had jumped to his feet the moment the Dra'ad had so violently entered the room, but the dizziness at this sudden movement had made him realize that he was not going to fight anyone.

 The Slayer will be weak, for this deal is not a powerful one.

 He couldn't take his eyes off her fallen body, struggling to get up, but failing. "Buffy," he whispered. She didn't hear him, her gaze fixed on the demon that had threatened her sister, and could break free from the spell cast upon it at any moment.

 You give what you want to get.

 With newfound determination, not thinking about what he was doing, he reached under his duster. His hand closed around a familiar object, and he pulled out the stake.

 Buffy chose that moment to look at him. Seeing the stake in his hand. And realizing what it was he planned.

 "Spike, no!"

 His eyes met hers for the last time, and he smiled.

 "I love you."

 With a swift movement, the vampire raised the stake, and then brought it down with full force. As the wooden point met his heart, he thankfully let himself fall into the darkness that followed.

 Buffy cried out.

 "Spike! Spike!"

 But it was too late. The ashes that had once been the peroxide blonde vampire had hardly begun to fall, as a bolt of pure energy shot to the Slayer's body. "So be it," said a female voice inside her head. "The deal is valid."

 Buffy shook her head, dazed. At that moment, the Dra'ad finally managed to break free. It decided to get the Slayer right away, doing what it came for as long as she was weak. It leapt.

 Her hands caught it in mid-air, slamming it against a wall. The demon's eyes widened as it realized its mistake.

 "Slayer," it croaked.

 "Yes. That's me." Her voice sounded strangely cold to her ears. She grabbed the creature's neck, and with a quick turn, almost effortlessly, she broke its neck. As the body slid down on the floor, Dawn threw herself into her sister's open arms.

 "Spike…" she sobbed.

 As Buffy embraced her crying sister, she looked at the settling dust, waiting for the tears that wouldn't fall.

Author's note: *all innocent eyes* Now, this could go two ways. First, we end this here and now as another of those never-completed stories around ff.net, or I get, let's say, ten reviews (signed ones), and this will continue next week. Blackmailing? Who, me? Look at the innocent eyes, would ya? *grin*

 Review, please! As for my little sis: Wanna know the end, gotta visit me. Or wait. ^_~